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The MATERIA Museum, the Museum of Art and Dyeing, Renewable Energy and Environment was founded in Val di Bisenzio, Cantagallo (Tosco-Emiliano), to study and bring understanding of the environmental sensitivity of this vast territory with its spectacular natural heritage.

The Prato area has been famous since the Middle Ages for textile processing, the creation of any type of coloured fabric and for this you need creativity, energy and continuous innovation in the chemical dyes. Many textile companies, therefore, were born near one of the oldest forms of energy available: the hydraulic paddlewheels along canals, a clean, renewable energy.

Some several years ago sustainability has come back into the foreground in Prato and the textile industries have created an eco-textile district. This has led both companies, Gruppo Colle expert in dyes and Andritz Group, leader in turbine manufacturing, to give birth to this very original museum of art and dyeing, tracing two stories, seemingly distant but strongly interconnected: in textile and energy.

MATERIA is also the source of information on what the activities of the textile industries are today, more related to the chemicals, dyeing, and the developments which have resulted in it having increasingly less impact on the environment. The Prato and other Italian textile industries have invested heavily in this area and the companies must publicise the achievements to recover competitive advantage.

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The museum of art and dyeing was installed in a mill of the late sixteenth century and you can see the old mill-stream with the dam and the water turbine, restored early last century, and the horizontal wheel with spoon blades, called a ‘ritrecine’. Looking ahead, to the present but starting from the past. There are centuries of work and engineering that they read concerning the industrial architecture highlighted with passion on your way through the MATERIA museum.

What many termed a visionary project is now a center to learn the history of textile production in Prato valley, the importance of the force of the water, as well as the environment and the sustainable and renewable energies. The project was designed by architect Giuseppe Guanci one of the best Italian ‘industrial archaeologists’.

An original note: inside the museum of art and dyeing there is a “confessional”, a red room with an armchair and video station where a visitor will be invited to declare his guilt in relation to the environment and to explain his intentions to rectify.

I am guided to the discovery of the office of Elisa Fabbri, head of the museum of art and dyeing, and we move from the visit to the turbine, and to the so-called “hell”, a suggestive underground cavity for water control from 1450. Nearby there are turbines and other ancient gear that show well the evolution of hydraulic technology. MATERIA is energetically autonomous: the electricity comes from a photovoltaic plant and a hydroelectric turbine, while the heating is provided by the offtake from the neighboring dyeing plants.

Inside, meanwhile, one feels the clean air with panels showing the textile processes and the industry of Val di Bisenzio. Elisa tells me that just starting from the importance of colour, MATERIA will host art exhibitions highlighting the relationship that binds all that is beautiful: art, fashion and environment.

MATERIA is more a tool to shape environmental sensitivity than a traditional museum and it is a worthwhile experience for all tourists in search of something unique. From the traditions of the Middle Ages to the largest Italian district for today’s fabrics, it sits in a picturesque setting where from here also starts our Third Industrial Revolution by Cetri.